Scotland Yard has been criticised for changing the support it offers to protest organisers without first consulting the Mayor.
Organisers of events and demonstrations wishing to close a road need a permit from the local borough or other highways authority.
The granting of these permits is usually conditional on the issuing authority receiving a traffic management plan detailing how traffic will be diverted and evidence that the event will be stewarded.
Historically the Met has accepted responsibility for drawing up the traffic management plan and provided officers to act as stewards and traffic marshals.
Following a review, the force has decided it will no longer offer these services which it says falls outside its policing responsibilities.
The policy change has proven controversial, with critics claiming it amounts to “privatised protest.”
Appearing before the London Assembly on Thursday, Assistant Commissioner Helen King said providing officers to police events in central London reduced the number available in boroughs.
She told Assembly Members that the Met was happy to work with protest groups during a “transition” period but said it was right that organisers provide their own stewards.
Following discussions with the police, organisers of the Campaign Against Climate Change demonstration on March 7th have agreed to do this, although the Met now says it will provide some additional support. It stresses this is “beyond our policing responsibility.”
AMs heard that the change of policy was decided without reference either to Mayor Boris Johnson or the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime which oversees the Met.
Earlier this week Mr Johnson said he believed the force should continue to support protests.
However today his policing deputy Stephen Greenhalgh agreed with AC King that stewarding events fell outside the force’s responsibilities.
One member of the Assembly’s police and crime committee said the Met “didn’t think through the impact on the part of their job that means they must facilitate the democratic process. It’s a cost-cutting move that has backfired.”
Baroness Jenny Jones said: “The Mayor is saying that the Met Police have a duty to facilitate peaceful public protest and to support other community events, but the police themselves are withdrawing their co-operation and leaving others to pick up the costs.
“I have no problem with well resourced organisations providing their own stewarding on a semi voluntary basis, but if ordinary people, or community groups, are being asked to jump through bureaucratic hoops such as drawing up traffic plans, or to pay several thousand pounds for professionals to direct traffic, then that is a barrier to peaceful assembly.”
Baroness Jones also criticised the lack of consultation on the change, saying: “The Met Police should have consulted Londoners before dashing ahead with such a significant change in policy. They have failed to sit down major partner organisations like the local authorities and neither have they talked to the big NGOs, such as the unions, Friends of the Earth and many others who hold major protests in London.
“The Mayor has also been by-passed and what we need from Boris Johnson is a simple instruction to the Met Police to go back to the drawing board and consult people.”